A software engineer , furious with the US Internal Revenue Service, crashed his small plane into an office building housing nearly 200 federal tax employees today, officials said.
The crash in Austin, Texas, set off a raging fire which sent workers fleeing as thick plumes of black smoke poured into the air.
A US law official identified the pilot as Joseph Stack and said investigators were looking at an anti-government message posted on the internet and linked to him. The website outlined problems with the IRS and said violence “is the only answer”.
Federal law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether the pilot, who is presumed to have died in the crash, slammed into the building on purpose in an effort to blow up IRS offices.
“Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer,” the long note on Stack’s website read, citing past problems with the tax-collecting agency.
“I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well,” the note, dated today, read.
At least one person who worked in the building was unaccounted for and two people were taken to hospital, said Austin Fire Department Division Chief Dawn Clopton. She did not have any information about the pilot.
About 190 IRS employees work in the building, and IRS spokesman Richard C Sanford said the agency was trying to account for all of its staff.
After the low-flying plane crashed into the building, flames shot out, windows exploded and workers scrambled to safety. Thick smoke billowed out of the second and third floors hours later as fire crews battled the blaze.
In a neighbourhood about 6 miles (9.5km) from the crash site, a home listed as belonging to Stack was on fire earlier today. Two law enforcement officials said Stack had apparently set fire to his home before the suicidal plane flight.
Elbert Hutchins, who lives one house away from the property in a quiet, tree-lined middle-class neighbourhood, said the house caught fire about 9.15am. He said a woman and her teenage daughter drove up to the house before firefighters arrived.
“They both were very, very distraught,” said Mr Hutchins, a retiree who said he did not know the family well. “’That’s our house!’ they cried. ’That’s our house!”’ he said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the agency confirmed the plane took off from an airport in Georgetown, Texas, and the pilot did not file a flight plan.
The FAA and NTSB officials said they had no information on whether the crash was intentional. The White House also said President Barack Obama was briefed about the crash.
As a precaution, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defence Command launched two F-16 aircraft from Houston’s Ellington Field, and was conducting an air patrol over the crash area.